Angela Hamilton – Corpus Christi, Texas

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Name: Angela Hamilton
Country of Service: Dominican Republic, 2006-2009
Peace Corps Response: Guatemala, 2013-2014
Recruitment Territory: Corpus Christi, Texas

Why did you apply to the Peace Corps?
Born and raised in rural Southern Indiana, I always pondered where else life could take me. I sought out leadership and service opportunities that were available. I was a first-generation college student and was the first in my family to travel overseas when I studied abroad for a semester in Ecuador. As a college senior, I took the old Peace Corps tagline – “Life is calling. How far will you go?” – as a personal challenge. Applying was the logical next step. 

When you applied, what did you hope to do?
I simply wanted to help people and be a part of something exceptional. As a sociology and Spanish major, I hoped to put my language skills to work in Latin America and gain a real-world perspective about socio-economic inequality in an international context. As a youth development volunteer in the Dominican Republic, I was able to do all of that.

What was a typical day like?
My week was set up around several anchor events, such as youth group meetings and English classes. One day, I might get up around 7 a.m. (having conditioned myself to ignore the early morning roosters), slip out from under my mosquito net, and make some oatmeal. I’d eat out on my porch, greeting all passersby with a “Buenos Dias.” After, I would do some dishes and chores around the house and yard while it was still relatively cool out.

I’d spend the morning working on lesson plans, tasks for an upcoming camp or a grant for a secondary project. After a hearty lunch of rice and beans, I might stop by the municipal office or the house of one of the leaders of the local women’s association to visit, talk about joint activities and drink copious amount of fresh, sugary juice. In the late afternoon, I’d work with a dozen very enthusiastic adolescents on a module for sexual health peer educator training or hold a session of beginner English in the small municipal library.

To close out the evening, I’d sit with children or elderly members of my community along the sidewalk, making small talk, playing games and people watching until it started getting dark. Then I’d retreat back to my cinder block and tin-roof abode, make a simple dinner and take a bucket bath. Finally I’d tuck myself back into my mosquitero and read books by oil lamp.

What was your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge was genuinely coming to terms with and embracing Dominican culture, especially the concept of time in less urban areas. What appeared to be a more lax or informal approach to work and personal life really equated to a difference in values and priorities. In the end, I learned to embrace this and became a more mindful and balanced individual in the process.

What is your favorite souvenir from your country?
The most valuable and lasting things that I brought back from service are friendships and relationships. From the curious and mischievous neighbor boys that frequented my house to the doting elderly doñas in the local women’s association, smiling faces and warm memories are forever etched in my mind. I know that I can go back any time and find the same Dominican hospitality and warmth in under a sprawling mango tree or while riding a packed guagua. My cat, Minerva, is my favorite tangible souvenir.

Name one thing that surprised you about Peace Corps or your host country.
I had no idea just how kind, giving and friendly Dominicans could be. Courtesy and hospitality are a true art form there. From the moment you arrive at the most humble household, you are invited with a hug and a smile, whisked inside to sit in a plastic chair, and offered anything and everything available to eat or drink. It’s no surprise that Dominicans routinely rank among the “happiest” people in the world, despite the daily struggles that many face.

Tell me about one of your projects.
When my community was affected by a series of tropical storms, my regular work was put on hold. I worked with community groups and organizations to secure immediate aid and projects for disaster mitigation—food and sanitation supplies, cement floors for homes in flood zones, and micro grants for female business owners. Through networking and making grant proposals, I was offered employment with an international non-profit after my service ended.

What was your Peace Corps Response assignment like?
I worked with the Guatemalan Ministry of Food Security and Nutrition as a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist. It was very different from my original service and more of an opportunity to work as a consultant with a local government agency, using the skills I had gained while working in the non-profit sector. It was a challenging and rewarding experience, and I would encourage returned volunteers and professionals to consider the program. You can read more about my Response service here.

What role does your service continue to play in your life?
Like most Returned Volunteers, I consider myself a life-long, unofficial ambassador for the countries where I served. I use Spanish nearly every day and am always up to date on the latest bachata hits. As a Peace Corps Recruiter, I feel very connected to the area where I recruit. I want skilled Kentuckians and Hoosiers of all backgrounds to be aware of Peace Corps and consider how service can fit into their life goals. I’d love to talk to you about it!

Angela visits schools and communities in Kentucky and Southern Indiana

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